S. Korean panel recognizes state’s culpability in past abuses at Brothers Home facility

Posted on : 2022-08-25 17:12 KST Modified on : 2022-08-25 17:12 KST
Brothers Home in Busan functioned as an internment camp at which numerous children and others rounded up from the streets during the ’70s and ’80s were subjected to forced labor, assault, torture, deaths and disappearances
This archival photo shows vagrant South Korean children who had been rounded up by police stepping out of the car and being handed over to the Brothers Home, a state-run facility that perpetrated numerous human rights abuses in the ’70s and ’80s. (courtesy Brothers Home TRC Committee)
This archival photo shows vagrant South Korean children who had been rounded up by police stepping out of the car and being handed over to the Brothers Home, a state-run facility that perpetrated numerous human rights abuses in the ’70s and ’80s. (courtesy Brothers Home TRC Committee)

For the first time, victims of egregious human rights violations at Brothers Home in South Korea have been recognized as victims of state violence. The decision came 35 years after the atrocities perpetrated at the facility for those deemed vagrants came to light with the arrest of Park In-geun, the institution’s owner, in January 1987. Whether the government will issue an official apology and come up with plans to support victims and their bereaved families for the psychological and financial damage they suffered is drawing interest.

A scan of a May 1986 report from the National Security Command shows plans to monitor an internee surnamed Kim, a 29-year-old at the time and a former fisher who had previously been abducted to North Korea. (courtesy Truth and Reconciliation Commission)
A scan of a May 1986 report from the National Security Command shows plans to monitor an internee surnamed Kim, a 29-year-old at the time and a former fisher who had previously been abducted to North Korea. (courtesy Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

On Wednesday, South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission held a press conference at its office located in downtown Seoul, announcing its first fact-finding decision regarding 191 victims of the “Brothers Home human rights violations incident,” which the commission described as “an incident in which state power committed grave human rights violations such as forced labor, assault, torture, deaths and disappearances by interning citizens it labeled ‘vagrants.’”

The commission recommended that the state officially apologize to victims of forced labor at Brothers Home as well as their bereaved families and devise a plan to support victims recovering and healing from trauma.

A person sits on the ground on Sept. 3, 2018, during an action by artists outside the National Assembly building in Seoul calling for fact-finding into the Brothers Home case and the enactment of a related special act. The seated person’s vest reads: “Investigate the facts of the Busan Brothers Home incident, in which 551 were killed, some buried in secret, others’ corpses sold to be used as cadavers for medical students.” (Park Seung-hwa/Hankyoreh 21)
A person sits on the ground on Sept. 3, 2018, during an action by artists outside the National Assembly building in Seoul calling for fact-finding into the Brothers Home case and the enactment of a related special act. The seated person’s vest reads: “Investigate the facts of the Busan Brothers Home incident, in which 551 were killed, some buried in secret, others’ corpses sold to be used as cadavers for medical students.” (Park Seung-hwa/Hankyoreh 21)

According to the commission’s 15-month-long investigation, internees at Brothers Home from 1975 to 1986 totaled roughly 38,000, with as many as 4,355 internees detained in a single year in 1984. Up until now, 552 were estimated to have died at the facility, but statistics and lists newly obtained by the commission indicated the death toll to actually be at 657, an increase of 105.

As many as 135 internees died in one year in 1986, when the Asian Games were held in South Korea — the death rate for internees at Brothers Home that year (4.30%) was 13.5 times that for the general South Korean population (0.318%).

Choi Seung-woo, a survivor of the human rights abuses at Brothers Home in Busan, stands on the ledge over the entrance of the National Assembly building in Seoul on May 6, 2020, where they carried out a sit-in calling for investigations into the Brothers Home case. (Park Jong-shik/The Hankyoreh)
Choi Seung-woo, a survivor of the human rights abuses at Brothers Home in Busan, stands on the ledge over the entrance of the National Assembly building in Seoul on May 6, 2020, where they carried out a sit-in calling for investigations into the Brothers Home case. (Park Jong-shik/The Hankyoreh)

The rate of death from tuberculosis at Brothers Home that year was 0.41%, 29.2 times higher than that for the general South Korean population (0.014%). In addition, evidence was found suggesting the internment of children and the forced prescription of psychiatric medication used for schizophrenia to internees.

Jung Keun-sik, the commission’s chairperson, acknowledged the state’s responsibility, stating, “The state ignored to resolve the issue of human rights violations at Brothers Home, and even though it recognized this, it did not take any measures. [. . .] It was confirmed that in 1987 this incident was minimized and distorted so that adequate legal judgment could not be made.”

In his memoir, Brothers Home proprietor Park In-geun included photos, such as the above, to show that Brothers Home was the highest-quality vagrants center in Korea. (courtesy Brothers Home TRC Committee)
In his memoir, Brothers Home proprietor Park In-geun included photos, such as the above, to show that Brothers Home was the highest-quality vagrants center in Korea. (courtesy Brothers Home TRC Committee)

Evidence was found indicating that the government and the military directly managed and utilized Brothers Home. According to a May 1986 Defense Security Command document made public by the commission, the military even sent one of its agents into Brothers Home in disguise so that it could monitor an internee surnamed Kim, a 29-year-old at the time and a former fisher who had previously been abducted to North Korea. Defense Security Command documents suggesting that individuals who had violated the National Security Act or the Anti-Communism Act were classified as “suspicious characters” and interned and surveilled at Brothers Home were also found.

A snippet from an activity report of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs authored on Feb. 16, 1987, showing a presidential directive from the then president, Chun Doo-hwan. (courtesy Truth and Reconciliation Commission)
A snippet from an activity report of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs authored on Feb. 16, 1987, showing a presidential directive from the then president, Chun Doo-hwan. (courtesy Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

Survivors of Brothers Home who attended the commission’s press conference shed tears, stressing that incident was still “ongoing.” Han Jong-sun, president of the Brothers Home Survivors’ Group, said, “While we are thankful for the fact-finding decision, it’s true that we are still anxious, as we haven’t received an official apology from the state.” He added, “We ask for your support for and assistance of victims who are still healing from pain and trauma.”

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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